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Bigger ACC equals bigger bucks for all

With all the recent talk of ACC expansion, there have been the traditionalist outcries against the addition of Miami or "Yankee interlopers" like Syracuse or Boston College. But every critic in the world can't prevent the Conference from cashing in on what would be a very lucrative expansion.

And in the process, it might even improve the quality of competition in the ACC as well.

ACC expansion is an inevitability. Although it doesn't look like the official announcement will come this year, expect as many as three schools to come under the ACC banner in the next five years. The three most talked about hail from the Big East: Miami, Boston College and Syracuse.

Others have been mentioned, including raiding the SEC for Kentucky and Florida, or cherry-picking West Virginia, Rutgers and--gasp!--Virginia Tech from the Big East. The Wildcats and Gators are highly unlikely to leave a pretty lucrative SEC deal. And the Mountaineers and Hokies offer very little besides football and geographic inaccessibility. Rutgers, albeit technically within the New York television market, does not have a strong tradition in nearly any sport.

Miami fits the ACC better than any other option. Sure, people like to cite their football program's long history with Miami-Dade County law enforcement, not to mention the checkered pharmaceutical past of previous players, but Butch Davis has stepped in and cleaned up the program.

Miami would give the ACC a proven second football powerhouse, in addition to Florida State. It would also add some heat to a dwindling rivalry between the Seminoles and Hurricanes: for the first time in a long time, that game would actually mean something. Plus, the foundation was laid for a stellar football rivalry between Virginia and the 'Canes at the 1997 Carquest Bowl, when Miami knocked Tiki Barber out of the game and the brawling started during the pregame stretches and kept up sporadically thereafter. I can only imagine what would occur if these two teams met every other season.

As Tim James and his team proved last year, the Hurricanes can play pretty good hoops, too. So long as it's not in the NCAA Tournament ...

Syracuse and Boston College have been suggested as the panacea to the whiny mediocre football caucus of Duke, Maryland and Wake Forest. Syracuse has a history of success on the gridiron and the hardwood, while Boston College's teams are more known for teasing upsets than following through on them. Still, a late-season football game between a division leader and the Eagles could provide some drama that is usually absent, as Florida State often wraps up the Conference title at a ridiculously early point.

Why expand, and tinker with a system that has become increasingly successful, especially in the past several years?

To determine the rationale behind ACC expansion, you need look no further than the nearest football field.

Several years ago, the SEC expanded, and with that expansion came the creation of an SEC Championship game, the week after the football regular season came to a close. This contest has become increasingly lucrative. And even though the Eastern Division champs continue to dominate the final outcome, their Western opponents have come closer and closer to victory each year.

An ACC Championship Game would be good for the Conference, and good for football, especially if by some miracle Florida State didn't end up in that contest, giving some national coverage and respect to other ACC teams. Luxury box- and club seats-laden sites ranging from Ericcson Stadium in Charlotte to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Washington have been mentioned as potential sites for the title game, offering large gate receipts as well as huge television revenue.

Expansion would not come without its drawbacks, however.

First, expanding the ACC in such a matter would drive a final stake into the heart of the Big East. And that's a shame, because the Big East was so entertaining in past years.

But let's be honest.

Big East football has gone down the tubes in recent years, not that it was great to begin with. And with the exception of last year's compelling Big East basketball season--which no one could predict no matter how many times they tried to convince you that Miami could pull off a 20-win season.

While there will be considerable outcry from purists who will lament the increased "conglomeration" of collegiate sports, absolving the Big East to save its individual members from languishing in mediocrity is a good idea.

Also, to expand would mean fragmenting the ACC into two fairly autonomous North and South divisions. Virginia, Maryland, Syracuse and Boston College would obviously head north while Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson went south. The four Carolina teams (Wake, UNC, Duke and N.C. State) would have to be divided among the two.

Now that's a problem.

Despite the unending babble about the great competition in ACC basketball, the Conference just ended the most top-heavy year I can remember, and I've been following ACC hoops since Michael Jordan played. True, most of the top talent from that season has departed for various NBA locales, including--snicker--Vancouver.

But no matter how you slice it, you're still going to have several hoops teams in each division that frankly aren't any good. In previous years, though, no matter how atrocious a basketball team was, they could count on a payday whenever Duke and North Carolina came to town. That way, they could take their whipping with a smile, knowing they'd at least make some money on the deal.

There's no way anyone would put Duke and North Carolina in the same division due to past basketball dominance. But if the ACC swelled to 12 teams, poor man programs like Florida State and, admit it Tiger fans, Clemson would only get one of those big paydays each year. If the ACC expands, Commissioner John Swofford and his crew will have to find a way to appease the woeful basketball caucus as well as the whiny mediocre football caucus.

But longtime rivalries--North Carolina-Duke and Virginia-Clemson for example--can be preserved. With the split, each team will have five Conference football games and 10 basketball games set in stone each year. Three more football and eight more basketball games can easily be added to the Conference slate. The schools can pick two of the three football games as annual meetings, and rotate the third game among the other four schools in the opposite division.

If there are 18 basketball games, each team would play their division rivals home-and-home. That's 10 games. They'd alternate home-and-away each year for four teams in the other division, like football, and still preserve two annual home-and-home rivalries.

The Conference's non-revenue teams' budgets are already strained by treks to Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech for the northern schools, and the Virginia and Maryland trips for the southern ones. Once you get on a plane, it doesn't matter that much whether you're flying to Charlottesville, Tallahassee or Boston. Plus, with the split, the long trips either will be equal or even less, depending on the sport.

If the ACC does this--and they will, no matter how much their new alignment strains the space-time continuum--the ACC will expand.

Just as long as they don't bring in those damn Hokies.